July 13, 2012 — Seven states involved in a federal lawsuit against the federal contraceptive coverage rules will continue their legal challenge despite last month's Supreme Court decision to uphold the Affordable Care Act (PL 111-148), the AP/U-T San Diego reports (Schulte/Murphy, AP/U-T San Diego, 7/12).
The lawsuit was filed by attorneys general from Florida, Michigan, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Texas. Pius X Catholic High School, Catholic Social Services, Catholic Mutual Relief Society of American and two private citizens also are plaintiffs.
The lawsuit alleges that religious employers that oppose contraception would be effectively forced to stop offering health coverage because of the new rules, which the suit contends would lead to higher enrollment in state Medicaid programs and increase patient volume at state-subsidized hospitals and medical centers (Women's Health Policy Report, 5/2).
The rules implement a provision in the health reform law that requires health plans to cover preventive services without copayments or deductibles. In February, the Obama administration announced that it would alter the rules so that religiously affiliated employers will not have to offer contraceptive coverage for their employees, but their health insurance companies will be required to provide no-cost coverage directly to women. Although preventive services requirements go into effect next month, religiously affiliated employers have until Aug. 1, 2013, to comply with the contraceptive coverage provision (Women's Health Policy Report, 7/11).
Lawyers for the Department of Justice have requested that the case be dismissed, arguing that the plaintiffs do not face an immediate threat of having to offer the coverage since the Obama administration agreed to delay enforcement. In the meantime, the administration has pledged to work with religious groups on implementing the accommodation (Women's Health Policy Report, 5/2).
The seven states will "continue to fight this attack on religious liberty," according to Shannon Kingery, a spokesperson for Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning (R), who is leading the case. She added, "This rule is a brazen violation of the First Amendment rights of millions of Americans."
Although the Supreme Court upheld the health reform law, legal experts have noted that the lawsuit is focused on narrower issues not addressed in that ruling.
Donald Blankenau, an attorney for one of the plaintiffs, said, "Had the court knocked out the [individual] mandate in the case, it probably would have resolved the issues in ours. But since it didn't, our set of issues will proceed."
Adam Samaha, a constitutional law professor at New York University's School of Law, said there are favorable aspects to the case for both sides. Other recent Supreme Court rulings suggest the justices have "some sympathies with religious organizations being burdened by government," but the Obama administration's arguments are bolstered by the accommodations it's already provided, he said (AP/U-T San Diego, 7/12).